The Ongoing Computer Revolution


Butler Lampson


I gave this short talk at the award ceremony for the Draper Prize in February, 2004 in Washington, DC.

Citation: The Bridge, 34, 2 (Summer 2004), pp 39-40.

Links: Abstract, Acrobat, Acrobat as published, Word, Web page.

Email: This paper is at



Xerox asked us to invent the electronic office, even though no one knew what that meant. We did, and everyone’s using it today. That makes it hard to remember what the world was like in 1972. Most people thought it was crazy to devote a whole computer to the needs of one person—after all, machines are fast and people are slow. But that’s true only if the person has to play on the machine’s terms. If the machine has to make things comfortable for the person, it’s the other way around. No machine, even today, can yet keep up with a person’s speech and vision.


What can we learn from the Alto about the future of computing? Well, in Alan’s words, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who think that there’s not much more to do with computers. Actually, the computer revolution has only just begun.